Today, I’m reflecting on my family’s first 4 full weeks of backpacking. Honestly, so far it’s been great! We’ve had a lot of fun, and if you’re following along on Instagram, or twitter you’ll notice that we’ve had some amazing food, accommodations, and adventures. Still, it’s had to say everything went as exactly as expected. Here are a few things I’ve learned along the way.
***A note. I have added some links to this page, and unlike most blogs, I am not being paid for any of these links. I’ve created the link to give you, the reader, easier access to what I’m speaking about. Feel free to click, or not to click.***
I have to give props to my kids. On day one of our trip, we woke them all up at 3 am to catch our first flight to Cancun without resistance. Since then we’ve had many 5 am wake up calls, and we’ve had a few days getting to places that lasted anywhere from 4 hours to 16 hours. They’ve gotten up, and they’ve travelled. Their major complaint always comes when I don’t allow them using their tablets when we are on long bus rides. They’ve been fantastic travellers, and I’m enjoying where this is leading their conversation. The other day, Charo and I caught them trying to figure out what we are going to do when we get back home. No, they weren’t homesick, they were trying to figure out how large a vehicle we will need to take our stuff on road trips, and also be able to include their Abuelita. I think they have caught the travel bug.
***Special kudos to Daniela. When we travelled to Tikal, Daniela’s stomach was not doing so well. Not only did she make it through the day, but she did it without a complaint! What a trooper.
Way back in November I wrote “The clothing List” where I specified what clothes we would be taking on the trip. When we were packing, we used the lists to help us pack but unfortunately, we didn’t stick to the list. It’s funny, but when you pack for a year you think you’d need a tonne of things when in reality you don’t. Charo packed and added one or two things for every item on the list. I talked her down from adding more. Now, and for the past 28 days, we’ve been shedding things. Trying to lighten the load. The rule of three is true, one thing to wear, one to wash, and one just in case. When backpacking you generally don’t have the privilege of using a laundry machine, so you end up washing more often. So every morning, Charo’s been washing clothes so they’re dry by the evening. We’ve been using the Scrubba. to help us out. Honestly, it does the job, our only issue is the amount of laundry 5 people make in a day so one load isn’t enough.
We are also brought to many things to keep the kids entertained. Yes, they do have their tablets, but they’ve brought a bunch of toys and board games as well. They are using their stuffies to sleep with, so having a few comfort objects are recommended, but one or two games is more than enough. Our guys have been playing Monopoly deal constantly. I’d have to say it’s been fun, and they’ve played it in every country, with every kid they’ve met. The extra things we’ve been shedding. We are trying to give it to kids who could use it and would enjoy it.
When we were preparing our list we thought about all the different places we will be going to, and the time of year we will be there. For the most part, we packed for a year of summer. In Peru, we will be going to a few places with higher altitudes so we packed along with a few sweaters as well. Even though we haven’t had the chance to use our sweaters, Charo and I both agree, MISTAKE! We are now lugging around these sweaters for maybe a week or two worth of use. We should have purchased them when we got to Peru, used them, then donated them somewhere. This would have saved us some room in our packs for sure.
The medication you should take with you
As a nurse, Charo is prepared. We officially have enough medication to start a small pharmacy. She brought everything she could think of. Well, except for a remedy for ear infections. Uh oh!
Yup, thanks to Douglas Adams for those words from The Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy. Everything you need can be purchased along the way. Unlike home, you are buying your medication as required, that means by the pill and not in bulk. You might need to take a taxi to the pharmacy, but rest assured they have what you need.
Finding a taxi at the border
For the most part, we’ve been trying to take local buses from place to place. However, if we could find a taxi for roughly the same cost, we do it. It’s a little less comfortable, but it does save us time. For the most part, we’ve had great experiences with our drivers, with two exceptions, and both came at border crossings. When we crossed the border into both Belize and Honduras, we were approached by taxi drivers. They kept pestering us for our business. After a while, Charo would negotiate with them a price that sounded reasonable. In Belize, our driver started to argue with us about the price. We ended up paying $5 US more. That’s not a lot, but it just left us with a bad taste in our mouths. In Honduras, our driver took us to someone to exchange money for us. He wouldn’t let us talk to the money exchange guy. We figured out that he cheated us out of about $15 US. In both instances, these drivers were recommended by others working at the border. Both times we were disappointed. So moral of the story, if there is a taxi at the border who annoys you, move on and find someone you are comfortable with.
On a side note, when talking to taxi drivers about things they recommend, yes, they do get kickbacks. For example, we took a taxi to get to a water taxi to get us to Finca Tatin. We were able to negotiate with the water taxi, and our taxi driver received a kickback. Our driver explained it to Charo on the route. No problem, just part of living in Central America.
Be flexible with planning
So far, we are a few days ahead of our plans. There were a couple of places we finished early. Don’t be strict with your schedule. It’s great to have a loose itinerary Charo has researched all of Central America knowing where she wants to go. It helps out knowing the places you want to go, and the geography of the locations. It helps to try to figure out what you have to see, and what you have to skip. For most of our stays, we are using the Lonely Planet and staying places that have one star with it.
Central America in July/August
July is part of the rainy season. If you’ve followed along, you’ll know the rain hasn’t stopped us at all. It’s been surprisingly dry. That’s the bad news, the good news, it’s quite. We’ve been to several hotels, and hostels and they are nowhere close to capacity. What does that mean? You can travel to flexibly. We’ve shown up early for several reservations we’ve had, and they’ve always been able to accommodate us with little problems.
When you travel with kids, schedule some downtime. I’m not sure they need it as much as we do. It’s not only good for the soul, but it’s also good for the pocketbook. I suggest finding a place with a swimming pool, a lake or by the ocean and relax.
Two reasons not to reserve hotels online
Since there are 5 of us travelling, we call to make sure they will accept us as a family. We don’t want to go and find out that we have to get another room. As part of our morning today, we were phoning ahead for one of our next stops, and they said they didn’t think their hotel would be able to accommodate a family with three kids. No problem for us, we just called the next place on our list. It’s better to know beforehand.
The other reason is financial. We are in the “rainy season” right now, meaningless tourists. If you call the hotel directly, you can often find cheaper accommodation. We’ve been saving anywhere from $10-$25 a night. It might not always be the case, but its a phone call worth investing in. For our first month, Charo made all of the requests from home. To make sure we stayed on the budget, she bought a $5 phone card, and it was more than sufficient to make all the calls.
I have to say, we’ve been lucky so far with all the places we’ve been, except for one. The site looked fantastic, but the service was incredibly bad. If we read the reviews to compare places, we would have realized this. I’m a little behind on my writing, but you’ll see it when I write about La Ceiba, The Jungle River Lodge.
It’s nice to have a kitchen
As I’m writing this, we’re staying at Roatan Backpackers Hostel. I have to say, I highly recommend this hostel. Not only is there a swimming pool, but more importantly a kitchen. Being a family that is travelling for a year, we have to make our dollars go a little further. Eating all of our meals out is not in our budget, so a place with a fridge and stove is worth it! We are not doing anything spectacular, but frying up an egg or making a grilled cheese sandwich not only helps us financially but makes for five happy travellers. Home-cooked meals always make everyone feel a little better.
That’s S’well: reusable bottles
Before we left on our trip, Charo and I invested in Five S’well reusable bottles. This is a significant investment when travelling, especially with kids. These bottles keep your beverage of choice cold for hours and hours. For us, it’s kept our water cold while we were on hot beaches, and who wants warm water? The only problem with this bottle, it hurts when you lose one, as we did in Bacalar, Mexico. So, down to 4.
Always check your passport
Ugh. This one is on me. Every time our passports come out, it’s my job to make sure everything comes back. Well, I failed, and not where you’d think. I did it at every border crossing. Where I didn’t do, it was the Claro store when I bought my first sim card. To get a sim card as a foreigner, you need to provide your passport, well I gave my passport, and I got it back, no problems and off I went. What I didn’t get back was my yellow fever vaccination card. So even though I have a passport, certain countries will not let me in without proof of that vaccination. Lucky for me, they kept it for me. I’ll be going back to pick it up in the next few days. Crisis averted.
Travel writing (the blog)
I’m trying to find my groove. The first unpublished blog I wrote from Mexico, which will forever remain unpublished, took me forever, and both Charo and I agreed, it was unreadable! Now, I seem to be getting a bit of a groove. I hope you’re enjoying it and as always, leave comments, tell me what you like, what you don’t like.
The apple of my eye. She is truly the driving force of this trip. She is a supermom. We’ve all been relying on her heavily. Without her passion, we would still be in Toronto wondering what to do on a summer’s day.
Thanks for reading, and happy adventuring!